Everyone's favorite frustrated lover, Elvis Costello, has released an album of country covers, Almost Blue. With the help of Nashville producer Billy Sherrill, he recorded twelve songs, written by the likes of Hank Williams, George Jones, and Charlie Rich. Country music is not a new toy for Costello — "Stranger in the House" and "Radio Sweetheart" (both on the previous Taking Liberties) stand as evidence of his knack for the country style. Costello is a fan of the art, and calls George Jones "the greatest singer alive today."
Costello's own lyrics have always been spitefully bittersweet, full of word plays and double-entendres, and usually sung with a drunken emotionality. He chose songs for this album which are highly conducive to his style. It might seem that Costello himself wrote lines such as "You changed your name from Brown to Jones and mine from Brown to Blue," "Success has made a failure of our home," or "Once upon a time you let me feel you deep inside," which he sings on the album.
Some critics have already reprimanded Costello for "stepping out of line." Stick to rock, they urge. In reply, Costello need only let the quality of this album's music speak for itself. Costello is an effective crooner — one can picture the tears running down his cheeks on "I'm Your Toy," and the Attractions once again display talent and versatility. Standout cuts on Almost Blue include "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" (by Merle Haggard), "Brown to Blue," and "Honey Hush," which sounds like a country-western "Roll Over Beethoven."
This album, and Costello's incorporation of a taste of country music on his last tour, indicate that Costello's dabbling in the country sound is likely more than a tangential episode in his musical career. Almost Blue is boozy and bluesy, and not only a key to his past influences, but a glimpse at his future work as well.